All teas are produced from the camellia sinensis plant, a species of low-growing bush or small tree. A long-lived species, some famous teas are produced from plants hundreds to thousands of years old. Today there are countless cultivars found across the world. Mainly grown in tropical to sub-tropical climates, tea plants prefer rich moist soil and full to part sun. Once picked, the end result can be broken down into about five categories: White, Green, Oolong, Black, and Pu’erh. Their distinction revolves around how they’re processed and the level of oxidation allowed to occur before drying. Starting with white, the least processed, the treatment of the leaves gets more complicated on down the line. All teas are high in nutrients that help maintain a healthy mind and body. Renowned for specific antioxidants call flavonoids, scientific research has found these compounds to provide significant health benefits and their consumption can support a long, healthy, and disease resistant lifestyle.
White tea is the least processed of all teas. Starting with new unopened buds, they are not oxidized before withering and drying. The drying process can be done in a number of ways and include the sun, air, or mechanical means. Despite its name, white tea still produces a yellow liquor – it’s the fine white hairs on the buds that give it its name. Producing a light and refreshing cup, white teas are commonly described as floral, grassy, herby, mild, subtle, delicate and sweet. Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen) is probably the most beloved of the white teas. Although wonderful any time of day, white teas are great for a relaxing cup before bed too.
Green tea is slightly more processed than white. Some of the best are harvested during what is called the “first flush” from early April to May with three additional harvests later in the spring and early summer. After picking, the leaves are withered, fixed, rolled/shaped, and dried. Unlike white tea, green tea can also be rolled and is found in an amazing variety of shapes and forms. More complex than white teas, greens are often described at vegetal, grassy, buttery, sweet, and herby. Dragon Well (Long Jing) is famous throughout the world for its superior taste and quality. Another green tea of note is Sencha, the mostly widely tea consumed in Japan. Green teas are also another great choice for a late night cup that won’t keep you awake.
(withered>shaking/bruised>partial-oxidized>pan-fried>rolled/shaped >dried> roasted)
Oolong tea is what most westerners associate with “Chinese Tea” and commonly served in restaurants. Unlike green tea, oolongs also undergo a partial fermentation and can even be roasted as their final step. The amount of oxidization can vary greatly and seen in the wide range of colorings from green to almost black. More robust than green, Oolong teas range from sweet and floral to thick, nutty, and woody. Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin) along with Red Robed (Da Hong Pao) are prized as two of the best oolongs in the world. Know to aid digestion, oolong teas make a great apéritif or digestif before and after dinner.
The first black tea was Lapsong Souchong (a smoked tea) and legend has it created by accident. Oxidized even longer than oolong, it is the most widely enjoyed tea in the world. Wars have even been fought over it, and in the US, every student knows about the Boston Tea Party. Deep and robust, black teas are full of the aromas and flavors of malt, molasses, chocolate, earth, caramel, and nuts. Black teas can also undergo a CTC (cut-tare-curl) processing commonly seen in tea bags and are the only CTC teas recommended for the Gong-Go Flash-Infusion Style. Most westerners have heard of Asam or Darjeeling, but Keemun is probably the most famous black tea coming out of China and not to be overlooked. With greater concentrations of caffeine, black teas are best during the day.
(withered>shaking/bruised> fully- oxidized> pan-fried>rolled/shaped>dried>fermented>aged)
Produced mainly in Yunnan, pu’erh teas are broken down into two categories: the “raw” (Sheng Cha) and the “ripe” (Shou Chá). However, both share the common characteristic of being aged. Many types are pressed into bricks and are so hard they must be pounded apart with a hammer. Produced from larger leaf species of tea plants, the big distinction is that “raw” pu’ehr are aged by fermentation before being pressed, whereas “ripe” pu’erh are aged over time after pressing. The most common trait associated with pu’ehr is its earthy flavor and aroma which improves over years of aging. Popular varieties include Lao Ban Zhang, Bingdao, Gua Feng Zhai. Ripe pu’ehr are also known to aid digestion and mild enough to drink at night.
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